We had a very long (almost 2 hours!) and thorough appointment with a wonderful gastroenterologist. Test results remain reassuring; based on some relevant markers it appears to be a virally induced response (probably his 48-hour flu bug back in November). The solution?
It could take weeks – or months – for his body to fully heal.
That said, we walked out of the appointment with a game plan (including some at-home supports aimed specifically at children with chronic abdominal pain/nausea). We’ve also been brainstorming how to best support each other as a family, and have lots of great ideas – many coming from the kids!
I’m not going to lie. Nights are still very bleak. But we’re working on those, too. As Nicole so wisely said: There will be a time after this.
Indeed there will be a time after this; in the meantime, while I’m in this time – with its worry and frustration and lack of sleep – thanks for coming alongside and offering support.
Last Christmas happened to fall on a Sunday. This is always memorable because, in addition to a Christmas Eve service, we wind up attending church on Christmas morning.
For obvious reasons, this impacts the flow of our day. I happen to love when Christmas falls on a Sunday; attending church Christmas Day feels like an intuitive event given the spiritual foundation of the holiday. This year we found a great rhythm and the mid-morning break from presents served to extend our gift-opening and food-feasting!
Christmas won’t fall on a Sunday again for 11 years – 2033. (In 2027, Christmas is on a Saturday, but is followed by a leap year, so we jump right to Monday in 2028.)
My immediate thought? Abby will be almost 23 years old.
What will life look like? Christmas 2022 she was in middle school. By Christmas 2033, she will have completed high school and, potentially, a full university degree.
I got married the year I turned 22 and had my first child when I was 23.
Looking at time from different perspectives can be fascinating…and shocking. The days can feel long, but my goodness the years are short.
Especially when measured at the speed of Christmases.
Your turn. Have you ever considered time from a different perspective and been surprised at the conclusion? I did a long-range view of the kids’ ages/grades/our ages based on Kelsey’s “The years are short” spreadsheet; a fun glimpse into the future.
PS. If you’re curious, Christmas will also fall on a Sunday in 2039, 2044, and 2050!
My grandfather, Ellis, served in the Canadian Navy. At some point in the 1940s, his ship was torpedoed – sank – and he floundered in the chilly Atlantic. The war he survived; the cancer diagnosis that came 18 years later, he did not.
I know very little about my grandfather. When my brother was little he saw a picture of Grampie up on a dresser and pointed, saying: Daddy?
My father – in looks, at least – was a carbon copy of his father, most notably for their distinctive ears. In various text chains over the years, when I’ve sent pictures of Levi, my mother has replied: My, you sure can see traces of his grandfather. Especially those ears!
Which means, of course, he bears traces of his great-grandfather as well.
So who was Ellis?
After the war, he settled in Saint John, Canada. He married Evelyn. By the time he died in the 1960’s, he left behind four children (and had buried another – her name was Elizabeth).
My father, the eldest, was only 15.
I know my grandfather’s row of medals were passed on to my uncle when my grandmother died. From what I gather, he rarely talked about the war, but surely it haunted him.
How couldn’t it?
It seems incomprehensible, in a way, how deeply an entire generation was touched by war. Those on the front lines of course but those at home, too, huddled around their radios, listening to the crackling voice announcing daily updates. It touched them all. My grandfather-in-law was a cook; my grandmother-in-law, a war bride from England.
Those “lucky” ones – the ones that survived – came home. My grandfather and grandfather-in-law were the lucky ones.
War was over.
What would they make of the newsfeed on my phone this morning?
My brother-in-law has served in the Air Force for several decades now. This summer I sat around the dinner table with my nephew (wasn’t I just cradling him as a newborn?), his fatigues resting on the table beside my grilled sandwich.
When he puts his helmet on you can see genetics at work: he too bears his great-grandfather’s ears.
I can’t – and hopefully never will – fully understand what my grandfather experienced. I don’t know if he had nightmares and flashbacks. I don’t know how many friends he lost. Was it dozens? Did his heart default to gratitude for survival, or did that very survival haunt him?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. And that, especially on Remembrance Day, haunts me.
I may not know how long he was adrift in the ocean, or what horrors he experienced (or had to inflict) but this I know: if arms hadn’t reached out to grab him from the Atlantic, I wouldn’t be here today.
Without that rescue, there is no me, no us, no Abby or Levi.
And so, in memory of Grampie Ellis:
In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them. In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them. In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them. In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them. In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them. In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them. When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them. When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them. When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them. So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them. [Emphasis mine.]
A Litany of Remembrance by Rabbi Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer
I’ve made it no secret that fall is my favourite time of year and I love how the peak beauty and charm of this seasonal transformation coincide with a calendar prompt for gratitude.
In thinking through what I’m thankful for, it feels cliche to mention things like my family, clean drinking water,a roof over our heads. But, really, wouldn’t life feel more vibrant and full if every day I paused to appreciate my family, our easy access to clean drinking water, and the roof over our heads?
One of my favourite movies of all time is White Christmas. I have deep sentimental ties to this film and watch it every year. Aside from the titular track, my favourite song has always been Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep).
In the movie Bob Wallace (played by Bing Crosby) sings the following lyrics to his love interest, Betty (Rosemary Clooney):
When I’m worried and I can’t sleep I count my blessings instead of sheep And I fall asleep counting my blessings
As a lifelong worrier (who has also struggled with insomnia), I think Bing Crosby was on to something. Gratitude can be transformative. And, for me, it almost always starts by gaining the right perspective.
If I want to focus on negative and worrisome things, there will always be plenty of fodder. Sometimes I can’t escape those stories and have to live in and through them. This is life.
But the reverse is also true. If I want to focus on the good and lovely, there will always be plenty on fodder. Somehow noticing the good and lovely doesn’t always come as naturally, but it’s worth the extra effort.
In no particular order, some things I’m thankful for today:
Clean drinking water
A roof over our heads
Debit cards (so I don’t always have to carry cash)
The way the light is filtering through our windows right now
That I can see in colour – isn’t the palette in our natural environment extraordinary?
Friends that care
Watching the kids sleep. I swear I can still see hints of their “babyness”.
A few weeks ago we went out for supper as a family. We haven’t done this very often since March of 2020. It felt “normal” (whatever “normal” looks like these days) and was an especially fun treat on a random Wednesday night.
When we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, John and Abby were talking about an inside joke song they had created about Abby’s new hamster, Meatball. It was nonsensical and hilarious. As I sat listening to them sing – with gusto, I might add – I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. A deep belly laugh.
After I finally finished laughing, I thought – wow, it feels so good to laugh.
Wouldn’t this be a great life goal – to be someone who laughs easily? (At appropriate times, of course; I understand laughter at the wrong time can be devastatingly hurtful!). Sure I can smile when I hear a funny story or silly lyrics. But why not take things one step further and muster up a laugh? It almost always feels extra therapeutic.
Your turn. Do you laugh easily? If so, do you have a go-to source of laughs (maybe a favourite sitcom, comedian, or family member)?Nate Bargatze is our favourite comedian and I also happen to be married to an extremely funny personwho goes out of his way to make me laugh every day <3
Our first round of overnight company (my brother, his wife + my parents) pulled out of the driveway 30 minutes ago. The laundry machine is humming, the kids – weary from adventures – have embraced screen time, and I’m heaving a contented sigh. The week had some ups and downs; this seems to be the drumbeat of my summer experience. But it was net positive for everyone, and there is a sense of both relief and satisfaction to have reached the end.
I’m always amazed how quickly we dismantle things after company leaves. The house – and life – can feel so chaotic and then, in a matter of several hours, sheets are washed, beds are remade, and everything seems so ordinary again (until this time next week when we have another, larger, group of family visiting!).
I was going to recap our week in one post, but think I’ll spread things out over a few “staycation” recaps.
Until then, here are six things happening in life right now.
ONE | I’m officially registered for a 5K. This was one of my goals for 2022 and it will be my first timed race, so it feels doubly satisfying. I debated doing a 10K, but know without any training I can easily complete a 5K course, so that seemed like the optimal choice. The Valley Harvest Marathon is a weekend-long event in October based out of our hometown (it’s a Boston qualifier, though I’m not aiming for that!). It has a large assortment of races – from fun runs for kids all the way up to ultramarathons. I can literally walk from our house to the starting line and I’m excited. (Special thanks to John for sorting out registration while I was off adventuring with family).
TWO | Our new gutters are installed. This may not seem noteworthy, but it is yet another thing to check off in our home renovation saga. You might recall I mentioned a 30-minute discussion – outside in frigid conditions – about how to configure one of the downspouts. We had to make decisions months ago, before all the pieces of the renovation puzzle were fully sorted. Turns out, after all that effort, my decision was incorrect. Thankfully, the workaround was a minor inconvenience. Feeling excited about how gutters turned out definitely falls under the category of Adult Things I Never Anticipated Caring About.
THREE | We live in such a beautiful part of the world. I’ll delve into this more thoroughly in those staycation recaps, but the fact that the views above are all five, fifteen, or fifty minutes away from our home is pretty incredible.
FOUR | We celebrated my parents 50th wedding anniversary this week. The celebration was small – just our little family unit – but my Mom consistently teared up while she was looking through the photobook of well-wishes and pictures we compiled. I prepared some of their favourite foods. She spent a chunk of their anniversary at the ocean – her happy spot. My parents are still very much in love and while the event was understated, it still felt special.
FIVE | I have started (slowly) reading again and I Miss You When I Blink stopped me in my tracks. After a few months that have had some tough emotional hurdles, I could swear Mary Laura Philpott was writing directly to/about me? I flagged so many sections of this book. (I’m reading Bomb Shelter right now, and it feels much less relatable for me. Still, though, I think she is a masterful essayist. How I love essays!) The downside to reading again? I’m staying up way too late…
SIX | It’s less than a month until school starts. Abby school supplies have been purchased (thanks to John for spearheading this!), and we have plans for most of the remaining weeks of summer vacation. I’m not wishing the time away…but I also sort of am. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for the fresh start of a new school year. Since I work at a university, September also marks a big uptick in my work responsibilities. It feels good to be scheduling in meetings, sketching out deadlines, and engaging with students again.
I’m off to do another load of laundry, fit in a walk with my bestie and maybe savour another cup of coffee.
How was your week? Does anyone else have upcoming races or kids headed back to school? Does anyone else crave the routine September brings as much as I do?
And, since we drove to each destination, time spent together in the car was a major part of our family vacation!
I’ve already mentioned this trip was a mixed bag of experiences; lots of smiles and excitement but also tears – including my own – and plenty of frustration. We learned that traveling with kids is very, very different from traveling without kids (especially in a city). We also learned that our kids aren’t overly enthused with cities. But, thankfully, when we reflect on the trip as a whole, it was a net positive for our family.
And when it comes to the roadtripping part of the experience, our kids deserve gold stars across the board.
Of the ~48 hours we spent in the car together, here is an approximation of their activity breakdown:
30% of their time was spent listening to music/audiobooks/podcasts (I made a playlist of our favourite upbeat songs – mostly Imagine Dragons and Avicci).
30% of their time was spent talking. We’d discuss what we were going to do next/what we had already done. We played word games. And, keeping it real, a portion of this 30% involved the kids fighting with each other.
20% of their time was spent watching videos. Frankly, I would have been fine with them watching more than they did, but they didn’t want to so I didn’t complain!
10-15% of their time was spent eating/snacking.
5-10% of their time was spent napping.
Nova Scotia – New Brunswick (DAys 1-2)
We pulled the kids out of the final 1.5 weeks of school. They didn’t miss much academically, and we wanted to avoid the summer tourist rush in Toronto (Canadian public schools were still in session) and NYC (around July 4th).
We collected the kids from school about 30 minutes early on a Friday (to avoid pickup lines) and headed to my parents’ home in New Brunswick. It’s almost exactly 4 hours away, and we made it without a single bathroom break. The kids ate some snacks, watched a few videos, listened to some music, one child napped…and then we were there!
It rained en route and, upon arrival, we discovered our trunk had sprung some sort of (small) leak. Sigh. We identified the issue quickly, but it required us to dry a number of pieces of luggage, including our American cash which had gotten damp.
We spent two nights with my parents, so the kids had all day Saturday at the lake. It is a happy space for them. Levi, in particular, loves the easy access to nature. He fished from shore, went hunting for frogs, and just generally enjoyed time outside. Abby did some crafting and played games with my Mom. At one point Levi braved the chilly waters for a quick swim.
We were on the road by 4:40 am local time. John had made (and frozen!) breakfast sandwiches before we left home. Sunday morning we microwaved these and wrapped them in tinfoil for a roadtrip breakfast. They were delicious. We brought a giant tote of non-perishable food from home, had a cooler with ice and some sandwich-making materials, as well as a day bag of food we kept in the car. Eating in the car saved so much money (and time)!
We stopped twice on the 11.5-hour drive for the bathroom (we gassed up the car on one of these stops), and that was it. The kids ate breakfast, lunch, and a few snacks in the car. They watched 2-3 hours of videos (we downloaded some Netflix show episodes on an old Android phone they propped up between them + John had a few movies on his iPad), we listened to music for several hours, and then the rest of the time we talked.
Because of scheduling, we were only in Kingston for 24 hours. We fit in a trip to a local park Sunday evening, spent time with John’s parents, and met up with extended family at a water park on Monday. Many moments of this time were wonderful, but I was exhausted from the travel (it rained and the trunk leaked again en route to Ontaro) and the kids were…rowdy. They were in a bouncing-off-the-walls mood after being cooped up, and it just wasn’t an appropriate time/place to be bouncing-off-the-walls which made for some less-than-ideal moments. It’s also hard to navigate being in a new space, and since we were only staying one night, there were all the logistical hassles of packing/unpacking which I found stressful. That said, we did have lots of enjoyable moments and the kids loved their time spent with young cousins.
We left right from the family picnic and headed to Toronto. My brother-in-law has a condo in the city that served as home base for almost a week. Traffic was a non-issue and we were all happy to arrive earlier than expected (Levi napped a chunk of the drive).
The condo was in a great location. While it’s a one-bedroom, it comes with a small “den” that is exactly large enough to hold two twin air mattresses, which is where the kids ended up!
My brother-in-law was outside to meet us and helped us get situated with underground parking. Once everyone was quasi-settled, we walked to nearby Earl Bales Park. It’s a huge park – 127 acres – and actually has its own ski hill. It was a great way to unwind after a busy day. The sun was setting and the temperature was perfect. The kids absolutely loved the playground and I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to return on a subsequent day. In addition to a ski hill and other playgrounds, the park also boasts a sensory garden, a splash pad, an outdoor amphitheatre, paved walking/cycling trails, picnic sites and fire pits.
It was nice to unpack and settle in (we did leave the condo for several nights, but it was our central location for the week). I found changing hotels/sleeping locations to be a nuisance as each change required a lot of time packing/repacking luggage which felt very inefficient (especially since I was juggling my things + overseeing the kids stuff as well). Settling in for consecutive days felt luxurious.
Long-time readers may recall how much I love quotes. I collect them from a variety of sources and am always on the lookout for new inspiration (last week: a sidewalk plaque outside the NY Public Library + on a wall at the American Museum of Natural History). While formal quotes from famous authors or philosophers are wonderful, I find it equally fascinating to hear what sayings work their way into individual family cultures.
Let’s start with a walk down memory lane…
family sayings from my childhood
So near, but yet so far. I use this one with my kids regularly and it gives me warm fuzzies every time as this line originated with my maternal grandmother. She was particularly fond of saying this when someone narrowly missed a shot in Crokinole. She and my brother would organize weekend-long Crokinole tournaments whenever they were together, and she had cause to say So near but yet so far regularly during those epic events.
It builds character. My father would say this about everything. Wet sneakers on a hike in the rain? It builds character. Shoveling the walkways after a big snowstorm? It builds character. Let’s just say, by my Dad’s reckoning at least, I should have a lot of character.
Did you do your best?That’s all I ask of you. My parents had high expectations for their kids, but they never demanded perfection. If I got a test back with a less-than-stellar grade, it would be met with a simple: Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you.
Obey. In modern contexts, I suppose Mom and Dad were relatively strict disciplinarians, but as Baby #4 it never really felt that way. There was an established structure for discipline but, beyond that, we actually had quite of bit of freedom. I spent lots of my childhood roaming, didn’t have enormous chore lists, and they never grounded us. We were taught to respect our elders and do our best but there was a fair amount of leeway in many regards. But if Mom made a request or gave a command, she meant it. If we put up resistance, she would reply in a steady, calm – but unmistakeably “Don’t Mess With Me” tone – Obey. If we made it to the point she just said Obey, we knew she meant business. No lecture or dithering or arguments or repeatedly asking us to do something. She’d just say: Obey.
Immediately or sooner. I had forgotten all about this line, but Mom recently brought it up and I couldn’t believe I didn’t remember my parents saying this! When do you want me to set the table for supper? Immediately or sooner. When do the cookies need to go into the oven? Immediately or sooner.
frost family sayings
And then you grow up and leave childhood homes; old routines and habits make way for new, blended family cultures, including a curated selection of go-to family sayings. The kids would likely be better sources for this information, but here are a handful that are in regular rotation in our house.
You can do hard things. We say this to the kids a lot. We don’t try to downplay that certain things are hard or unpleasant, but do want to affirm that they can do hard things!
You are a joy and a blessing. I read this line in a book years and years ago and say it to the kids regularly, especially at bedtime. I have to admit I don’t always feel this way in every moment of my parenting journey but it’s still always true. They are a joy and they are a blessing.
I have high expectations and I know you can meet them. I’ve started saying this after reading Grit by Angela Duckworth where she mentions an iteration of this line. I do have high expectations but I like to think they’re reasonable. Mostly I’ve been saying this in the context of interpersonal relationships between the kids and/or with their friends. (Eg. I have high expectations of how kind/compassionate you can be to your sibling, and I know you can meet them).
A few weeks ago, right before we headed out on our road trip, I was visiting with a friend and discussing the upcoming rigors of traveling with family. I told her I thought I needed to adopt some mantras and we talked through them together that very evening.
(A note before I start. Years ago I read Dan Harris’ book called 10% Happier. I have always, always been in awe of this title because I love the realism. The book is never promising a story of absolute change (100% Happiness) or rainbows pooping out puppies. Nope. It’s discussing a 10% increase in happiness. Sometimes tiny improvements can feel too slight to celebrate, but 10% is so much better than 0%.)
I digress on this point because none of the following mantras dramatically changed my outlook on this trip. I knew two weeks on the road, with thousands of kilometers of driving, 100+ kilometers of walking, and extreme changes to our schedule were going to be tough. But I do think these mantras made things at least 10% happier/easier. And that’s a win in my books.
It costs what it costs. I have a very hard time spending money, especially if it seems at all frivolous. I shop sales, buy all my clothes (and many other items) secondhand, and want to think I’m getting the best deal on just about everything. There are lots of motivators from my past that have led me to this point but, needless to say, vacation can be a tough pill to swallow because of the apparent nonstop “frivolous” spending. Hotels, restaurants, entry fees. When we were debating doing a second Broadway show and I was inwardly balking at the price tag? It costs what it costs. I still hate spending money, but repeating this in my head really does seem to help…a bit.
Choose the bigger life. I’ve been chewing on this one for several years (courtesy of the Happier podcast), but it felt especially relevant for this family trip. As an introvert (who doesn’t like to spend money; see above), saying yes to adventure doesn’t always come naturally. But I know that choosing things that might be slightly more uncomfortable in the short term, often makes for the best memories long-term. On our last full night in Toronto, John wanted to see the skyline after dusk. We ended up walking a LONG way to get to a specific view of the city. I was tired and every ounce of me wanted to turn around for home, but I said: Choose the bigger life. And the view was absolutely worth it!
On our way through Canada to the US, we passed within 15 minutes of Niagara Falls. It was a bit of a nuisance to route to the falls and we knew we might have a hassle finding a place to park. We discussed it briefly but, in the context of choosing the bigger life, the answer was obvious. So we went.
I can’t keep everybody happy. This one is huge for me. I hate, hate, hate (x 10,000) conflict and really do want everyone (including myself) to be happy at all times. And it’s just not possible. I told myself this a lot on the trip (one child wants to do/eat/see/watch X, while the other wants to do/eat/see/watch Y = only one child is happy). I was frustrated regularly by my lack of control over keeping everyone happy, but repeating this line did help me manage my expectations…slightly.
This will feel different tomorrow. This mantra ended up being my favourite, but I didn’t come up with it until partway through the trip. Last Monday was…not so fun. It had some great moments, but I ended the day crying in our hotel room which wasn’t exactly Highlight Reel material. It rained/was hot and muggy all day. My period started. The kids were tired and grumpy. I forgot most Broadway shows don’t run on Mondays, which meant the evening I had originally planned wasn’t going to happen. The kids were underwhelmed/overwhelmed by city life and insisted on fixating on the negative: too many people, too much cigarette smoke, Wolfville is so much better (true on all counts, but it’s New York City! How can you not love this place?). At one point I told myself, This will feel different tomorrow. I didn’t try to spin it into: This was a fully awesome day. But a simple acknowledgment that the events of the day would feel different in retrospect.
Thursday night was another tough evening. Despite a good day of travel, we were all emotionally and physically tired from adventuring. We had a gorgeous lighthouse stop planned and all was going well until someone (who will remain nameless) tickled someone (who will also remain nameless) and that someone did not enjoy being tickled, bumped into a rock as a result of said tickle, and a gigantic meltdown ensued. I was beyond frustrated. Please everyone be happy, I wanted to scream (but kept to a dull yell once we reached the car). While I really should have been repeating Mantra #3 above on repeat, I did not and chose to ugly cry (that time of the month + 42 hours of driving = an emotionally sensitive Mama), but after a hot shower I told myself – and believed – this will feel different tomorrow. And it did.
As part of my evening wind-down, I happened to read Laura Vanderkam’s blog post about a recent family vacation. I appreciated how she starts off a paragraph by saying “we had a good time” and then goes on to document a number of things that went wrong including poor sleep, an ear infection that required a trip to the hospital, and sunburns. But then she wrote something that turned my day around. “My goal…was to have…a few enjoyable moments, and that definitely happened.”
I turned to John triumphantly and said: we had lots of enjoyable moments. If my goal was to have a few – or even lots – of enjoyable moments (instead of wanting to keep everybody happy and have only enjoyable moments which just isn’t reasonable with the dynamics of a young family or the realities of LIFE), then our vacation was an overwhelming success.
So cue my newest vacation/life mantra:
My goal is to have at least a few enjoyable moments…
How about you? Any treasured phrases from your childhood, or things you currently say to friends, family or coworkers? Any vacation mantras you’ve been incorporating this year to make things 10% happier?
Whatever you’re doing this long weekend I hope you have many enjoyable moments.